Mercedes radiator grille sets design benchmark
The design of the Mercedes 35 PS with its powerful upright radiator grille had a lasting impact on the automotive world. Until halfway through the 1930s, virtually all series-production automobiles had a similar radiator design – with slight variations between flat and pointed. The radiator grille with the distinctive vertical fold in the middle appeared in 1911 and enabled a slightly larger cooling surface. However, because it was more complicated to produce, it was reserved largely for vehicles with powerful engines.
In the first 40 years of automotive history, the radiator had a purely practical function. Carmakers didn’t initially see it as a distinctive hallmark for a brand. Individual design was largely in the creative hands of the coachbuilders, who also liked to experiment with the shape of the radiator – from opulent curves to streamline designs inspired by aviation.
The radiator grille as a protective cover
The big change came along in 1931 with the arrival of the Mercedes-Benz 170 (Typ W 15). For the first time, the radiator was mounted for protection behind a grille. The new component was part of the bonnet and designed with enormous care. The elegant, rounded, rectangular form was based on that of the radiator itself. However, it was also augmented by a wide chrome frame, which conveyed a message of quality and timeless elegance. The Mercedes star appeared not once but twice on the innovative radiator cover – as a badge and also as a dignified ornament. The fine honeycomb pattern had a functional as well as aesthetic role. It protected the radiator itself from dirt and from being hit by stones. Dirty radiator fins were less effective at cooling than clean fins, while impact from stones could cause damage, leading the engine to overheat.
The radiator grille on the 1937 Mercedes-Benz 170 V retained the same fundamental upright, slender form. However, it was angled slightly rearwards and tapered inwards towards the bottom. This sent a far stronger visual message about the dynamic performance of the new limousine. The radiator’s slightly pointed shape subtly enhanced this effect. Attention to detail was also evident in the fine fretwork and chrome-plated cross braces, which visually divided the surface into precise sections.